By: Patricia Grotenhuis, 6th generation farmer
Winter winds howl and snow is so deep in the fields we can barely see the fence posts in places. The tractors and equipment (other than the snow blower and the tractor that runs it) are tucked away in the shed. Field work seems a long way off, but it is always on the minds of farmers.
Winter is an important season on the farm, especially for the soil. During the winter, the soil has a chance to rest, replenishing moisture and nutrients. The cold weather also helps control certain parasites which could kill the crops, lowering crop protection requirements in the following year.
While winter rages on, the farmers have important jobs to complete before spring and planting season arrive. During the coldest months of the year, farmers are making important decisions about the crops and seed varieties they will plant and how they will limit pest pressure. They’re also trying to steady their finances for the coming year, making advance purchases of seed and contracts to sell the crops they do grow. Future planning about which crops to plant has to take subsequent years into account. On our farm, this means a four year plan to accommodate hay crops and proper crop rotation, or the changing of crops in each field annually to ensure soil nutrients are being maximized and pest pressures are minimized. At the same time, the soil is preparing itself for another growing season.
Just as the soil needs winter to prepare for the future crop year, the farmers need winter to evaluate what they have done in past years and plan what they will do in future years. Although it looks quiet, the farm does not sleep.